Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The run from Kansas City to Rapid City

May 6-8, Rapid City, South Dakota

A seasoned RVer told me when he is traveling from point to point with few intentions of sightseeing, he calls it "running."  These are also the times when it is wise to find an inexpensive, no frills campground close to the interstate or find a place to dry camp such as Walmart or a Flying J. We have been on the road since late August and have yet to pursue this latter option. In fact, we have only boondocked or dry camped one night on the road in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan when we parked at a closed-down elementary school when visiting some friends in the area. Our only other boondocking experience was at a private rally in the Keys where we had the opportunity to camp on a fabulous piece of property right on the water next to the Seven Mile Bridge in Marathon.

With our plans of making a "run" for it from St. Louis to Rapid City, we thought this would be a good opportunity to try some of these alternatives. We are also members of two clubs that we have been hoping to take better advantage of as we head west. One club called Harvest Hosts allows you to boondock at designated wineries, farms, or orchards across the United States and Canada. The other is Passport America which typically offers 50% discount at participating campgrounds.  We have not yet used Harvest Hosts, and we have found that there are many restrictions on the use of the Passport America discount--especially if you are in high season somewhere. While we were in Red Bay, Alabama for almost three weeks, we sketched out a loose itinerary for this leg of our travels (we seldom make reservations ahead of time as that limits our spontaneity).  Our travel philosophy has been to plan days of four to six hours of driving and get to our destination by late afternoon. This arrival time often precludes the idea of pulling into a Walmart or truck stop to drycamp as it would be too much time to hang out there.  The wineries, however, would be good as many close by 5 or 6 and you want time to do some wine tasting after you arrive--part of the reason they are offering free parking as hosts.
Our plan for the St. Louis to Kansas City, Mo. run was to stay at a Passport America campground, Basswood RV Resort in KC Platte City, as the drive was only four hours. I found one that accepted the PA card Sun-Thurs only, reducing the cost from $38 to $19.  The place was also only about two miles off I-29, our route north.  It turned out to be a fantastic countryside RV resort with beautiful fishing lakes, a large pool, amazing play structures, and roomy campsites--way more than we needed for an overnight stop but the convenience of a pull through here for less than $20 was a good deal.
Basswood RV Resort--internet photo as it was rainy and dark when we arrived
There were major thunderstorms and a tornado warning in the Kansas City area when we arrived. I checked the doppler radar on the WeatherBug App on my phone. It shows a little peg man in your exact location so it is helpful in judging the severity and longevity of the storm as it approaches. What I noticed were several green "blobs" with red centers clustered around the area. I think this is how supercells develop as they merge together often generating tornadic activity. They were also predicting hail up to 2" and flooding in certain zones, including some highways. Great. We were at least thankful to be off the road in a site with no large trees hanging overhead.  I made fresh pierogies (which were the best I ever had) and a big salad from the goodies we bought at the Soulard Farmer's Market in St. Louis. (Mike and BJ, sorry you couldn't join us.) As luck would have it, our peg man stayed on the periphery of most of the storms so we only had to endure about an hour of impressive thunder and lightening. The dogs crawled under the table during most of this time and, for a moment, I thought Vic would join them too. Each time the thunder cracked, his eyes widened as a wave of nervous tension crossed his face. He is such a West Coast boy. My childhood in the mid-West gave me a passion for thunderstorms; I often lamented about how much I missed them in Montana and Oregon. Keep in mind, I wasn't living full time in a motorhome then. Storms take on a different edge when you are in a 36' x12' x8.5' fiberglass box. That is why we have made an effort to follow H for happy on the weather map. So far, we have had fewer than seven rainy days in the past eight and a half months.  That seems pretty amazing to me, but, into each life a little rain must fall, no?  I never actually minded the rain in Oregon but that may have been because it made life in a classroom for twenty-seven years more manageable. Anyway, we had a peaceful night sleep and took off for the next leg to Sioux Falls at the leisurely time of almost 10 a.m.
Interesting rest area icons in this part of the country
Not much to see on the stretch of I-29 between Kansas City and Sioux Falls.  The predominant element we had to battle was wind, not unusual for these parts. One crosswind gust caused Vic to veer into the left lane--a bit of a wake up call to slow down and hug the shoulder.  I looked up tips for driving in crosswinds and one interesting one was to fill up on gas and freshwater to add weight. We were down to 1/4 tank anyway, so we heeded this advice and stopped at the next diesel station.  I also read a tip that said if the gusts exceed 50 mph, it would be a good idea to pull over and watch a movie.  I like this thinking.
While going down the road, I tried to call the Wilde Prairie Winery where we had planned to spend the night, but only reached voicemail.  I looked on the internet to check their hours and it said Fri-Sun, so I started to doubt we would be able to take advantage of this plan. There were two Passport America campgrounds in the area and one, Tower Campground, was closer to the interstate then the other, so I called them for a site as a back-up in case we did not hear back from the winery. It was nearly 5 p.m. when we reached Sioux Falls, and we had not yet heard from the winery so we pulled in to Tower Campground, about a half mile from the interstate. We discovered this was the last week they were taking PA cards, as summer is their busy season.  We got a pull-through again for the price of $19; however, this campground would rate about a 4/5 compared to the 9/10 one we just left. It was clearly an old, tired place in a noisy location next to a busy street. The owners were very friendly though and seemed to be aware they had their work cut out in trying to update the place.  The sad part is just when we got hooked up and settled, my phone rang; the winery was calling to tell us to come on over.  It turned out the owners have day jobs and did not get home to respond to inquiries until after 5 p.m. Seems like they need a better system if they want to get RV business during the week. (The last time I tried it was a Sunday and the winery was required to lock its gates because of Alabama liquor laws.) Oh well.  We will keep trying to use this membership.

The weather turned cold (low 40s) overnight in Sioux Falls. It's been a long time since we have had a jeans and sweatshirt day but it looked like this might be one.  We took off by 9 a.m. for the straight shot across South Dakota on I-90 to Rapid City, about 350 miles. One entertaining aspect of this drive is the pervasive presence of colorful billboards erected across the state. The most famous, of course, are the Wall Drug billboards.  Vic has never been to South Dakota before so I convinced him we would need to stop in Wall, S.D. to check out this historic roadside attraction.  

The tribal presence gives rise to an abundance of casinos

The wind kicked up again but luckily the shoulders were better and the traffic was sparse. I had hoped to do my first rest area to rest area driving stint but the wind and the fact that the rest areas were 85 miles apart squelched this desire. Vic and I questioned how folks in the High Plains grow accustomed to the wind. Many pioneers didn't as we have both read about the women, in particular, covering their ears and going crazy from the constant howling of the wind. The constant presence of the wind led us to wonder why there are so few trees in the land dominated by prairie grass. A quick check on the internet taught us that the lack of trees is a combination effect of flooding, wildfire, agriculture, and harsh winters.
An old homestead in the middle of nowhere on I-90
The stop at Wall Drugs provided a good opportunity to stretch and take a look at a unique slice of Americana.  Vic was a little appalled at how commercial it was with thousands of tourist trinkets. He did, however, enjoy a blackberry homemade ice cream milkshake at the drugstore's soda fountain counter. I entertained myself by looking at the vast array of Western wear (I love cowboys) and made the mistake of finding the boot section.  I have not had a chance to wear the cowboy boots I packed in the motorhome, otherwise I would have been really tempted by some of these beauties.

$1000 Tony Llama boots
My obsession boots
These would also do. . .
Okay, here are a few more fun shots.

We are about to arrive in our new home, Box Elder, South Dakota, where we will stay at America's Mailbox campground for a few days while visiting the Badlands, Mt. Rushmore, Crazy Horse Monument, Deadwood (home of one of Vic's favorite HBO series), and. . . the local DMV. It feels to good to be on Mountain Time. 

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